Paris Blues

Last week myself and my Dad watched a classic movie; Paris Blues starring Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier. The movie is set in Paris and is the story of Ram Bowen (Paul Newman), an American trombone player gaining a reputation on the Paris jazz scene and his friend Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier), a fellow expatriate who plays saxophone in the same band. The two musicians run into two young American women holidaying in Paris for a fortnight – Connie Lampson (Diahann Carroll) and Lillian Corning (Joanne Woodward) – and the foursome divide into two couples who fall in love.

The film contrasts the accepting attitudes of the French to different races with the racism in the United States at the time. Eddie loves Paris as he feels free and he doesn’t have to take orders from anyone – back in the US he would struggle to find the same level of professional and personal freedom. Ram loves the music scene in Paris and is trying to carve out a career not just as a musician but a composer too. The two men find their beliefs challenged by Connie and Lillian and they struggle to reconcile their growing romantic feelings with their professional dreams.

Duke Ellington composed the score for the film and it is amazing throughout, imbuing the film with a magic that is missing from many contemporary soundtracks. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong not only has a role in the film but also guests on two tunes on the soundtrack with the Duke Ellington band.

Of course I adore Paul Newman, not just as one of the handsomest men ever to grace the screen but also for his ease and naturalness as an actor. It was particularly lovely to see the onscreen chemistry between him and his real life wife Joanne Woodward – in certain scenes when they laugh together it gives a glimpse into the dynamic that sustained their fifty year long marriage.

My Dad saw the movie when it first came out in 1961 and it had particular resonance for him as he was a young jazz musician at the time. He astutely made the point that (without giving the plot away) both Ram and Eddie rise to their own individual challenges at the end of the film. I couldn’t find an embeddable trailer for the movie but you can watch it here. It’s well worth catching this film for the evocation of an exciting time in music.

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